Thursday, May 14, 2015

Back of the Big House . . . In Town

When one thinks of antebellum slavery, a rural environment is usually envisioned, but the enslaved were obviously urban residents in Southern towns and cities as well. Among other occupations, urban slaves served as domestic help, skilled artisan craftsmen, factory workers, and coachmen. Like their rural counterparts, city slaves were often housed in proximity to their owners. However, unlike country field slaves, city slaves' domiciles were most often well constructed and made of durable materials, such as brick.

Earlier this week, while in downtown Petersburg, I located some buildings that I believe were once urban slave dwellings. The above picture shows the back of a two-level domicile, which is behind an impressive brick house on High Street. The suspected slave dwelling appeared to be a duplex structure, as it had two doors on the front side. Its construction is similar others I have observed in Southern urban areas.  

Next door to the dwelling in the first picture was the above structure. If I were to guess, I would say this back part of the the home to which it is attached served as its kitchen and/or house slave quarters.

This gray structure with red stutters is similar to the building in the top photo. It is located behind what was once the 1859 home of one of Petersburg's wealthy residents, Mayor John Dodson. The big house was also owned by former Confederate general William Mahone after the Civil War, and was later converted into the town's public library for many many years. As mentioned above, this two-level duplex design was common for antebellum urban slave quarters. 

The above dependency was attached to the larger home by a a slight breezeway. It, too, likely served as a kitchen and dwelling for the enslaved individuals that worked in the home.

This structure is behind the Ragland Mansion on Sycamore Street. The Italianate-style big house it likely served was built around 1857 for another of Petersburg's wealthy citizens, Reuben Ragland, and his family. Unlike the other urban slave dwellings shown here, it did not appear to have a chimney/fireplace. However, considering Ragland's wealth, it could be that this structure utilized a stove system instead.

This stuccoed structure is located behind and attached to a large home on Washington Street. It does not appear to be a kitchen, but rather solely a residence for enslaved domestics. 

Near the above stuccoed home is a frame house that is rapidly falling into disrepair. Behind it, and even perhaps on another property, is the brick ruins of what appeared to once be an urban slave quarters. 

Hopefully with some additional research time I can confirm or disprove that these structures were actually dwellings where enslaved individuals lived and worked.  

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